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What We Do for Longevity

  • Could the life expectancy of an American adult reach 110 years by 2120? Few if any of us will ever know, but a look at historical data does suggest that life expectancy can take a significant leap over the course of a century. Back in 1920, the life expectancy of an American adult was 54.1 years. By 2020 it had reached 77 years — an increase of more than 42%. If you project 100 years forward from 2020 using that 42% increase as a basis, you arrive at 110 years. (It should be noted both that COVID-19 and drug overdoses caused a small decline from 2019 to 2020 and that multiple unpredictable factors impact overall life expectancy.) Let’s look at some of the reasons life expectancy has increased over time and recent efforts at ensuring greater longevity.  

    An Extra Generation of Life 

    Consider again that 42% gain in life expectancy from 1920 to 2020. That 23-year increase is equivalent to living for an extra generation. Why the significant uptick? Many factors likely played a role. Standards of living have increased for a variety of reasons, such as better sanitation, broader education and improved healthcare, including new technology, procedures, vaccines and medications. Take as an example smallpox, which during the first 80 years of the 20th century was responsible for up to 500 million deaths globally. The development of a smallpox vaccine essentially eliminated the disease worldwide by 1980. And there are many other examples of why people are living longer:  

    • Government studies reveal that the number of adults in the United State who smoke decreased by two-thirds between 1964 and 2018. 
    • Hazardous materials like lead and asbestos, once commonly used in home construction, are now either banned or in limited use. 

    Recognizing the Diet-Health Connection 

    Dietary fads have become increasingly popular since the late 20th century. For some, words such as Atkins, paleo and keto are now synonymous with eating healthy, though many of these diets remain controversial. Humans have understood a connection between diet, health and longevity for far longer than the lifespan of any modern-day dietary trends, however. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” and the namesake of the Hippocratic Oath, wrote books on the topic in ancient Greece.  

    Well over 2,000 years later, an Austrian doctor named Theodor Escherich discovered the E. coli bacteria in children’s digestive systems. When introduced into the digestive system, the bacteria can cause illness. However, a certain amount of E. coli already exists in the human digestive system and actually aids in digestion. 

    The Human Microbiome and Longevity 

    The discovery of E. coli was the beginning of our realization that myriad microorganisms inhabit the human body and, in the right balance, can be beneficial to our health. Study of the microbiome — the ecosystem of microorganisms that live within and on our bodies — wasn’t formalized until the 2000s. A thorough understanding of the existence and importance of the human microbiome turned out to be a missing component in our efforts to bolster our health and foster greater longevity. Many people now actively contribute to their own longevity in part by looking after their microbiome. This includes using prebiotics and probiotics, limiting the use of antibiotics when possible, eating the right types of foods, exercising regularly and generally having what are widely accepted as healthy habits. 

    What UF Is Doing for Longevity 

    Through programs dedicated to the study of food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and other subjects, the University of Florida’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is helping promote a healthier global community. While we’re not certain that the average American will live to see 110 in the next century, we are making important efforts toward greater longevity. This includes a continuing study of the human microbiome through our Microbiome and Health Online Graduate Certificate program.  

    During this 12-credit program, you’ll explore homeostasis — the “right balance” previously mentioned, how microorganisms can be harnessed to prevent or treat diseases in humans and animals, the potential risks of antimicrobial resistance, virology and a variety of other timely and consequential topics tied to human health and longevity. 

    Open to students who’ve finished a bachelor’s degree and meet all related requirements, our program offers many benefits: 

    • Apply with no GRE requirement. 
    • Complete the program entirely online, at a time and location of your choice. 
    • Earn your certificate in as little as two semesters. 
    • Add a valued graduate credential and corresponding skills to your resume. 

    Live longer and help others do the same! Give the human microbiome your full attention, both in your lifestyle and career. UF’s Microbiome and Health Online Graduate Certificate is here for that reason. Apply now! 



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